City of Brass

City of Brass


onwards, muslim soldiers?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an uncomfortable and unjust spotlight has been trained on muslim-American soldiers serving in the armed forces. To be blunt, their loyalties are being questioned, with some conservatives arguing that muslims should be barred outright from serving in the military, invoking the analogy to world war II that we did not commission “japanese nationalists or Nazis”. The implicit premise is of course that an ordinary muslim soldier is akin to a Nazi in terms of ideological loyalty. In truth, however, ordinary Germans and Japanese Americans did indeed serve in World War II with honor and distinction – just as muslim Americans serve today.

However, as Islam is a creed rather than an ethnic background, one can reasonably ask whether there is any conflict with the demands of identity between faith and service. The concept of “Ummah”, or community of believers, is one nearly every muslim believes in a symbolic sense, though I question its pragmatic meaning. Much like the term, “The West”, the Ummah is amorphous and has no formal authority. Muslims in Xianjing province and in Hawai’i (and all muslims in between) have default membership in the Ummah by virtue of shared faith, but to what extent do muslims so far separated actually communicate or interact in any meaningful sense? How can such a vast entity have any cohesion? The sole occassion where the concept of Ummah has any genuine meaning is during the Hajj, where muslims from every corner of the globe unite in pursuit of piety and prayer. But this too, is fleeting. Muslims who sat side-by-side in front of the Kaaba during Hajj share a bond of experience, but after Hajj ends they go back to being cardiologists in Los Angeles or street sweepers in Bangladesh and that bond is, for all intents and purposes, severed.

The Qur’an, however, is clear – muslims should not kill other muslims. There are three verses in particular, [4.92-93] and [17.33],

[4:92] Never should a believer kill a believer; but (If it so happens) by mistake, (Compensation is due): If one (so) kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased’s family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (Is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, (is prescribed) a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Allah: for Allah hath all knowledge and all wisdom.

[4:93] If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.

[17:33] Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law).

Verse [4.93] is often quoted without [4.92] as essential context, and taking the two together there does seem to be an exception for a “people at war with you” as long as the soldier does pay penance. It is quite possible for a soldier to invoke [4.92] as permiting them to kill muslims in the line of duty of those muslims were at war with the US. One could argue that [4.93] explicitly threatens you with hell if you kill a muslim, but that reading is only supported if you ignore the immediately preceding verse. My own take – and I am not a scholar – is that [4.93] applies to those cases not covered by [4.92]. And let’s also note that “a believer” can also mean Jews and Christians, as explicitly stated in the Constitution of Medina by the Prophet SAW himself.

As far as [17.33] goes it is a general axiom and not limited to muslims killing muslims, but asks the muslim to refrain from taking life whenever possible – but makes a notable exception for “just cause”. Note that Islamic scholars articulated an Islamic just-war theory over a thousand years ago, and wars between muslim nations have been ongoing since after the Prophet’s SAW death to the modern day. The Iraq-Iran war is a good example of a recent such conflict, as is the civil war in Pakistan leading to the creation of Bangladesh.

Naturally, these verses are completely violated in both letter and spirit by groups such as Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, and the extreme factions of the Taliban. By applying extreme punishments on the people they rule – such as stoning or beheading – they are in effect killing believers without “just cause” (for example, the Qur’an requires adultery to have four witnesses before capital punishment, which is a near-impossible standard to meet – which is why these extremists simply fabricate them in their zeal to make an “example”). And their attacks against Western targets routinelly kill more muslims than non-muslims – for example, the 2005 attack on the luxury hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt or the numerous civilian-targeting bombings in Pakistan, such the 2008 bombing at Mariott Hotel in Islamabad.

Another argument made against muslims serving is the concept of wala’ and bara’ – a compilation of various verses from the Qur’an that collectively make the case that muslims should seek to minimize their interactions with non-muslims, and that a muslim’s primary attachments and loyalties should be to fellow muslims. It should be noted that much of this pertains to Christians and Jews who are in enmity or prosletyzing. The main problem here is that this argument is not limited to the military but can be extended to all of Western (non-muslim) civilization. If you accept wala’ and bara’ as binding, then how can you justify remaining in the West at all? These verses do not totally forbid muslims from relations with non-muslims, but offer cautionary warnings.

The bottom line is that the Qur’an provides enough rationale to either permit or forbid a muslim from being in the military, depending on the interpreter’s bias (and sure enough muslim scholars in the West tend to rule muslims may serve, whereas scholars from muslim nations find the opposite). Ultimately, it falls upon the muslim’s own conscience as to whether they can serve their nation.

According to military sources, as of August 2009 there were 3,557 active duty muslims, the majority (1,710) serving in the Army. However, these figures come from voluntary identification, which most muslims may not be inclined to mark. The American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran’s Council estimates that as many as 20,000 muslims are serving in some capacity – and hundreds of thousands of muslims fought for Britain in WWII. And of course there are crescents aplenty among the crosses at Arlington – including one for Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. This photo of Khan’s mother at his grave speaks to any American, regardless of faith.

Related: There’s an active discussion on whether muslims can and should serve at Talk Islam. Hussein Rashid and Wajahat Ali both have excellent, must-read pieces about how blaming muslims who serve only compounds the tragedy. Both NPR and the New York Times have fantastic stories on the challenges faced by muslims in the military. NPR also interviewed James Yee, a former Army captain who was falsely accused and jailed for conspiracy with detainees at Guantanamo. Finally, Sheila Musaji at TAM has a massive compilation of links for further research.



  • athiest

    “The Qur’an, however, is clear – muslims should not kill other muslims.”
    Well, I’m really impressed with religion now!
    I’m sure the muslim who just went on a killing spree first asked his victims if they were muslims.

  • Mere_me

    That you censor out whatever comments show Islam as the corrupt political system that it is, shows the corrupt nature of Islam.

  • the prophet was a child rapist

    Tabari VII:7 “The Prophet married Aisha in Mecca three years before the Hijrah, after the death of Khadija. At the time she was six.” Ishaq:281 “When the Apostle came to Medina he was fifty-three.” Tabari VII:6 “In May, 623 A.D./A.H. 1, Allah’s Messenger consummated his marriage to Aisha.” He would be dead in ten years; she hadn’t lived that long. Pedophilia was, and continues to be, child abuse.
    Accusing a prophet of being a pedophile sounds outrageous. Yet the evidence is undeniable: Tabari IX:128 “When the Prophet married Aisha, she was very young and not yet ready for consummation.” This is how it happened: Tabari IX:131 “My mother came to me while I was being swung on a swing between two branches and got me down. My nurse took over and wiped my face with some water and started leading me. When I was at the door she stopped so I could catch my breath. I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old.” Given a choice, I believe most people would prefer to get their spiritual inspiration from someone who wasn’t a sexual predator.
    Muhammad struggled to justify his behavior. Bukhari:V9B86N98 “The Prophet said, ‘A virgin should not be married till she is asked for her consent.’ ‘O Apostle! How will the virgin express her consent.’ He said, ‘By remaining silent.’” Bukhari:V9B87N139-40 “Allah’s Apostle told Aisha, ‘You were shown to me twice in my dreams [a.k.a. sexual fantasies]. I beheld a man or angel carrying you in a silken cloth. He said to me, “She is yours, so uncover her.” And behold, it was you. I would then say to myself, “If this is from Allah, then it must happen.”‘” Allah not only approved pedophilia, he insisted upon it.
    That makes the Islamic god as perverted as his prophet.

  • FALOVETT

    I listen quite frequently to ‘Conservative’ talk radio and have not heard nary a mention of banning any Muslim from the Armed Services. However, they do indicate that the level of Political Correctness is foolish and near amoral. America has seemingly lost its willingness to survive. We are told that all Muslims are not terrorists, which is plainfully obvious. On the other hand, it appears that a vast majority of Terrorist profess the Islamic faith. Are we to disregard this fact in the name of Political Correctness. I say not.

  • Mere_Christian

    Where, on American soil, is there a place for the Islamic dream? Dhimmi status and death don’t bring out the best in Americans towards those oppressing them.

  • Nancy

    You have some ignorant readers. I’m sure this tragedy would have never happened if the government wasn’t full of intolerant incompetents. You have understand that this man’s background is consistent with an American patriot(ROTC), etc. After 9/11, this amn is perceived as a potential enemy. But he joins the army where he is perceived as an enemy by an irreligious lot who might just mouth that they are Christians. He probably couldn’t understand Wiccans who said they didn’t see traditional religions or God as a route to recovery. This confusion between faith, the faithless but patriotic caused some kind of horrible breakdown. This is a hateful country. I should know,I’ve been ostracized for being a Roman Catholic first, an American second. There sure were a lot of strange and immoral people running around in the Bible. Are we so ignorant to think everyone was a virtuous character just because they happened to be in the Holy Bible?

  • Nancy

    Also, I think the military’s mentality towards Muslims has been skewed by the Conservative Evangelical politicians and their press- whatever happened to separation between Church and State? Evangelicals must have found a loophole in the Constitution. Their mentality might be that it’s better that we have Muslims under our command and control, than let them run loose in our communities, “the potential terrorists”. What a losing mentality.

  • http://muslimbuddhist.blogspot.com Teed Rockwell

    Re “Muhammad was a Child Rapist” viz. your claim “the evidence is undeniable”. Actually, the evidence is not only deniable, but denied by many Muslim scholars. I did some research on this a few years ago, and this is what I discovered, to the best of my memory. First of all, there are varying levels of reliability for Hadith. These Hadiths (Haditha?) are ranked very low on that scale. Secondly, these claims are not consistent with many other historical facts. For example Aisha would have had to have been working as a nurse in a particular battle when she was only about 6 years old. Analysis of other documents at the time indicate that Aisha was probably somewhere between 15 and 19 when she married Muhammad. Do a search, and you’ll see that this claim is more problematic than it appears.

  • Eddie

    Ms. Nancy should educate herself further before posting claims about a section of society she knows nothing about. After having served 20 years in the military I can tell you first hand that intolerance is not tolerated. I am a Roman Catholic and Hispanic, and I have never been persecuted for being either. I have served alongside Muslims who were treated with the same level of respect as non-Muslims. Even our interpreters were treated with kindness and respect. Furthermore I have never heard anyone, whether a military member or a government official, say anything to askew the mentality of any military member towards Muslims. Its seems to me, by your posts, that you are trying to justify the murder of 13 (14 if you count the unborn child) unarmed Americans. You probably have also convinced yourself that killing 3000 innocent Americans was justified. It is a good thing you do not live in a society where you would be thrown in jail or had your tongue cut out for a simple thing as an opinion. God Bless America.

  • Your Name

    Thank you for this analysis. As I read through it, I think I can see (at least a little bit) how extremists could twist the wording and phrases to suit their world view. The “just cause” portion is the easiest to understand. If they see their cause as one to “free the oppressed” from the bounds of Western control and their corrupr ways, that would certainly be a just cause and basis for a war.
    Then you can twist this further. Since the people are not free, they must be slaves to the evil Westerners. This would mean a bomber taking out a marketplace may view their action as just, and view anyone killed has being freed from the oppressors. Thus they have fulfilled the Koran in carrying out a just action, and the believers killed in this war were finally freed from being slaves to be with Allah (meeting 4:92 in a round about way).
    Of course to twist the wording and belief in this way, if they are doing so, really confounds me.

  • truth to be told

    I was running through all the comments , and unfortunately none was related to the shooting of Ft.Hood all what i read is cursing religion believes and Prophet(SAW). It was absolutaly horrofic and heinous act by the maj. and no religion whatsoever would except what was done other then his follows extremists who are they real God non-believers. but for those who keep cursing muslim…….. people curse & swear when they feel they are weak, feeb-minded and powerless.this was psychologically proven. best example can be shown when a woman fight her boyfriend or her husband.but In fact we have big problems in which ther are some psycho portions of our american society trying to show themself as a real patriotic by cursing minorities such as Muslim believers since they could not proven by any other means other then cursing, like fighting even one day for their nation all what they were left is weakness, feeb-minded to unlesh by talking bad about other religions. why we can’t fathom that new great generation is one the way to be made blend of open and birllaint minds from Muslim, Cristian, and Jewish societies have we realized that … No because simplay narrow minded dont get it that when curse and give bad immages about someone’s religion him or her injencting young hatred and abomintaions. That usually lead to piling these feelings of haterd and trunning person to committe just another massacr

  • vince campellone

    Yes there were many muslim soilders fighting in WW1, WW2, Korea,
    Vietnam, Iran, Saudi, Russia, Poland, Yougsolivia,France, Spain,Portugal, Moroco, Algeria,Tunis, India, China,Japan,Germany, and the list is extensive!And as years past, political ideoligies
    don’t change. Religious beliefs don’t belong in the battle, since
    they are personal! What does belong in the battle,which is the pure understanding of human rights! Of which, mankind truly belives, and
    understands. If we draw the line as a religious war, there will be no winners. Only God will make the decisions, on who is good or evil, rewarding to each ones Justice! Man as we view today is an insignificant amoeba!Trying to play God.

  • IMER

    There is no doubt that servin any atheistic army in the world is Kuffr (apostasy) and whoever has doubts in this creed is kaffir (apostate) as well.The author of the text is simply a nerd who has no idea of what islam is ,firstly the iranians are not muslims ,secondly the all nonbelivers shoud pay jizja (tax) to the muslims otherwise they shoud face war-JIHAD.

  • Your Name

    …conviently left out those Hezbos’, Al Axing Brigade, Hamas and the many more. Why didn’t you speak about the “infidel” part? How about this, as bad as the Inquisition was, it came after the Crusades that were a direct result of Muslim invasions of the Holy land. A tiger can never change it’s stripes. Islam has been on the march for nearly 1000 years. We just ain’t doing the crusade thing, maybe we should…

  • http://umarlee.com/2009/11/19/is-it-permissible-to-join-a-kaafir-army/ Umar Lee

    I have posted some opinions from some Islamic scholars that I respect. These opinions are not new and hence do not factor in the political winds of the day. Truth is unchanging
    http://umarlee.com/2009/11/19/is-it-permissible-to-join-a-kaafir-army/

  • Alfred

    I don’t really know enough about the Muslims make any blanket statements, but it appears that there is a fundamental disconnect between our constitutional form of government and their faith. Our founding fathers were bent on creating a country that did not allow religious persecution, and more importantly, elevated an agnostic body of law to Supreme status, which guaranteed individual rights that could not be abridged by religious or political dogma. The Constitution became in effect out Political GOD, with the Supreme Court being elevated to final arbitrator of conflict between the Law (as codified in the Constitution) and religious and/or political expediency. So I ask, can a Muslim be a good American (defined as a person who is a resident of the United States)? The Christian religion as currently practiced seems to take to heart the Bible passage “Give unto Caesar what is Caesars……”, which allows for subordination of the Religion to the State, which guarantee’s its existence and freedom of expression. It is crucial for our success (as we define it) that the Constitution be recognized for what it is, the prime guarantor of our way of life period! A religion that can not subjugate itself to the State (which in this case means the primacy of personal expression), it has no place in our society and should be discouraged.

  • r4 dsi

    Well thats great, good to hear that. Sounds nice to me. It good there are Muslims as well are soldiers. i have normally heard they are just tend to be in their own business and don’t move towards other type of employment.This was something new to me.
    r4 dsi

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    I had got a dream to start my own commerce, however I didn’t have got enough of money to do it. Thank God my close fellow advised to take the mortgage loans. So I used the short term loan and realized my dream.

  • http://nailer-0.webs.com/apps/blog/ nailer

    We should be painstaking and perceptive in all the information we give. We should be signally aware in giving opinion that we would not about of following ourselves. Most of all, we ought to evade giving counsel which we don’t follow when it damages those who depreciate us at our word.

  • http://www.onthesamehost.com/?q=giocarepoker.info Marry

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